Destination: Cuba —> Varadero and Havana
Casa: My resort of choice was the Paradisus Varadero, located on one of the most beautiful sections of the Varadero beach. It consists of 28 villas that surround one main building, which is home to two bars, six restaurants, an entertainment area, a spa and much more.
Do it or you’ll regret it: As tempting as it may be to stay on the beach and soak up the sun, you won’t truly experience Cuban life until you actually leave your resort. Not only is it worthwhile to see the stark contrast between your luxurious resort and the reality of everyday life in the communist country, there is also so much culture to experience.
Things to do:
- Varadero is full of places to shop and listen to live music. For five Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) you can enjoy unlimited bus travel between your resort and downtown. Be sure to bring your camera to take pictures of the vintage cars and coco-taxis.
- Dance at the Mambo Club. Even the staff from the Paradisus headed there on their nights off.
- Take part in one or more organized trips, which range from swimming with dolphins and riding on a catamaran to excursions to Havana (La Habana, Cuba’s capital city) complete with cigar factory tours. Although these trips aren’t included in the price of your stay, a bus does conveniently pick you up from your hotel (and drops you back off too).
- Rental cars and scooters are also available if you want to head out on your own.
Top trip picks: The capital city is full of stunning architecture and endless amounts of stores filled with cigars, rum and souvenirs. It’s worth the 144 km bus-ride to Havana to be able to walk around and experience both the old and the new city (which doesn’t always look all that new).
I also recommend touring the Matanzas country-side because you’ll be able to see how people really live. As we drove along, kids came running to our car to wave and say (or shout) hello. If I had been prepared for this, I would have packed goodies to hand out. Please do, if you go!
My favourite staff member: Bartender Ray. (He’s being sandwiched in the photo above by yours truly on the left and my new friend Sophie, from The Netherlands, on the right.) Ray was amazing. He was entertaining, funny and a great dancer. If you have the chance to meet him, ask him to make you a “Ray Special,” his delicious and fruity alcoholic concoction.
Good to know:
- You need 25 CUCs to leave the country
- Tip in CUCs (or if need be bills because coins can’t be exchanged at the bank)
- Along with bringing school supplies as gifts, also pack personal hygiene items such as toothpaste and soap
- Bring a power converter (220V > 110V) if you plan on using items like your hair straightener or electric toothbrush
- Bring toilet paper if you leave the resort because you won’t find it in most public bathrooms. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find toilet seats.
- Practice the lyrics to the song Guantanamera… or not — regardless you’ll know it by the time you head back home
- Oddly enough, they air TMZ in Cuba